If there is one person who knows all too well about challenges it would have to be Akela Jones.
At one point they were her best friends. But through them all she has remained determined. She set goals for herself and she was resolute that nothing could get in her way.
In fact, if you ask Akela why she possessed such tenacity, for sure the teen would boldly state that she was hell-bent not to become a statistic.
While living between Campwood Children’s home and Sterling Children’s home, Akela lost her mother, Alberta Bajan Patsy Louis, who was brutally murdered.
In an interview this morning with Barbados TODAY from her Welches Terrace, St Michael home, a smiling Akela recalled that it was those 12 years as a ward of the state that made her the strong woman she is today.
“My childhood was a good childhood. There were some good moments, some bad moments. It was something I could look back and tell my children stories about. Sometimes we would get a lot of negative talk because Bajan Patsy was my mother but I loved her. So from early I learned to put that to the side and instead use the talents and stuff that she give me. I said I would not become a statistic, especially as a child coming out of the children’s home. A lot of children come out already looked upon as if they will not succeed and I told myself: ‘I am not following that path and I will not be a statistic so they could talk about me’,” she said.
It was then as a student at the Hilda Skeene Primary school that Jones began to take up sports and excelled in various events. The statuesque beauty started to catch the eyes of many who saw her talents and encouraged her to pursue them. But the 19-year-old admitted she was way two young at the time to actually think seriously of a career in sports. That was, until her first CARIFTA Games in St Kitts back in 2008.
Then barely 12-years-old, Jones, a pupil of the Springer Memorial Secondary school, entered the final round of the the high jump ranked ninth. But somehow at the end of the event, the youngest athlete on the Barbdos team, as a matter of a fact, the youngest athlete at the entire games, won the silver medal.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I remember running up to the bar a million and one times until I finally made an attempt. I got over and I heard everybody scream,” she reminisced with a broad smile on her face.
Upon returning from the CARIFTA Games it can almost be said that Akela got a renewed focus because she got new coaches – Sean Dupigny for sprints and hurdles and Neil Chrichlow for jumps – who helped her develop plans and set goals for herself.
She said: “At first I was just training for Inter-school Sports and CARIFTA Games but then I started to see it was a way I could get a scholarship so my [adoptive] mother wouldn’t have to pay for all these expenses. I realised I had the talent to make it big. So it was just about training hard with a goal in mind. I saw it as a way out so I just continued.
“At the time I was still in the children’s home so sports gave me an opportunity to get out of the children’s home to travel overseas and meet new friends. No matter how many injuries I had, I still always sucked it up and carried through. Every year it was a different injury – growth spurts, knee injuries, ankles, back. I told myself if I fall down I will pick myself back up again. I was determined, better believe it; I got to make it.”
Though she now has many titles under her belt including World Junior Champion in the long jump, Jones would be the first to state that she hasn’t made it yet. Actually, laughing loudly, Jones maintained that anybody could win a World Junior medal. What she is desirous of, however, was translating that title to an Olympic medal, a NCAA medal, Diamond League medals and so on.
Like so many other young athletes, she wants to reach the pinnacle of sports. But in reality, athletics is not all this young woman has her sights set on. Currently reading for a Political Science degree at the Oklahoma Baptist University and with fingers crossed that she will attend Kansas State University in the coming semester, Jones wants most to inspire people. And to do this she aspires to be a juvenile justice officer.
“I want to create pathways. I want to put stuff in place so that people after me will be able to benefit and so they will have a better chance of making it higher than I have. I want to speak out on problems and on issues in general. I believe the system is set up for children in the children’s homes, in the Government Industrial School, children in the court system to fail and that is something that must be changed.
“In school I got in trouble for representing people so I will now use my mouth in a good way. There is no kind of constructive plan for them to get back into society and make it work. Children out of the schools, go back into society and then go to jail. If so many children are going down that path then it can’t just be the children, something is wrong with the system,” the champion high jumper said as she passionately vowed that when she was established in track and field she would use her fame as a platform to speak out for these individuals.
“I’m proud of how far I’ve come but I will still remain humble. I train like I am number 2 and not number 1 so I keep progressing to the top. You got to keep on moving. My aunt [Michelle Nelson] always says ‘When you snooze, you lose’ so I’m going to keep it moving. And for others who may have a challenge, don’t ever let statistics determine where you will be.
“You got to be different, you got to stand out. People will say things but you got to believe in yourself, believe you can do it and everything else will fall into place. Once you believe you can make it to the top you can. Seriously, you got to believe. If everybody says you will be this or you will be that and you are listening to all of them, put it to the wayside. Get two people to be your guards, guarding you against the negative; let them bounce it off and keep on moving forward,” Jones advised.
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